Yoenis Cespedes, the Cuban defector whose prodigious athleticism made him one of baseball's more intriguing free agents, has signed with the Oakland A's.
The same Oakland A's who dealt not just their best pitcher but their two best pitchers, Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill, have now turned around and signed on to an unproven Cuban outfielder.
It's a bit of a head scratcher since generally speaking, when you deal your best pitchers, the assumption is that you're entering into a form of rebuilding.
Not in Oakland, though. Cespedes has a four-year, $36 million contract, and after that, he can become a free agent. Does Cespedes relish the thought of playing in a pitchers' ballpark and in all likelihood not getting to the postseason? Who knows? Perhaps Billy Beane who has, without question, been a general manager that's hard to read has another slew of transactions up his sleeve? Only time will tell.
The Cespedes signing so close the official start of spring training has to be one of the more intriguing moves of what has been an interesting offseason for Major League Baseball. There have been some other shocking moves as well.
Albert Pujols meets the Los Angeles media after signing his mammoth deal with the Angels.
By the time that the free-agent market was opened up last fall, there was a fair amount of conventional wisdom that suggested that Albert Pujols may in fact leave St. Louis.
When the baseball winter meetings were convened in Dallas, it seemed like the Miami Marlins were the team to beat in the Pujols sweepstakes. Then when that deal fell apart, it seemed as if Pujols would in fact return to St. Louis. Except he never signed with them, and that led people to believe there was a dark-horse team in the running.
There was, in fact, a team in the running. It was the Los Angeles Angels, and on Thursday morning Dec. 8, that "dark-horse" become a winner when they inked Pujols to a 10-year, $254 million dollar deal.
Normally, that type of deal would have been the summation of a team's offseason. Instead, it was merely the first of two mammoth same-day signings by the Angels.
That's because within a couple of hours, the Los Angeles Angels would announce the signing of free-agent pitcher C.J. Wilson.
Wilson was the No. 1 starting pitcher on the market. Pujols was the No. 1 bat; now, they were both California-bound, and on the same day at that.
The Wilson deal was for five years and $77.5 million dollars. So in the span of a few hours, the Angels had committed $331.5 million. That's a hefty tab, but it's also a sign that the Angels were not just making a commitment to to competing for another World Series. They were also attempting to stake their claim as the Los Angeles area's No. 1 baseball team.
With the Dodgers mired in a toxic combination of divorce, bankruptcy, poor performance, declining attendance and a brutal fan beating, the window to draw in L.A. baseball fans was wide open, and the Angels made an aggressive play.
Whether or not it pays off in the long run in the form of titles and attendance is yet to be determined. The ferocity of the moves would make for one of the most memorable and shocking days of the offseason.
Sergio Santos being dealt to Toronto was a surprise.
When the offseason began, most people assumed the White Sox would make some moves. After all, they had already jettisoned their manager, Ozzie Guillen, the same Guillen who led the team to its 2005 World Series Title.
The 2011 White Sox were a picture of futility, with players woefully under-performing on offense and pitchers who seemed mired in mediocrity. They finished 79-83, 16 games out of first place.
So rebuilding was on the offseason menu for Kenny Williams and the White Sox. Still, it seemed like if there was one player who played a major role on the 2011 White Sox who would remain on the roster for the 2012 season, it was Sergio Santos.
The hard-throwing right-hander emerged from a crowded field of candidates to claim the closer role in the spring and didn't let up through the long season. He finished the season with 30 saves and 92 strikeouts in just 63.1 innings pitched.
Even more importantly Santos was cheap—not just low-cost, but literally inexpensive. He made a paltry $435,000 in 2011 and had signed a fairly low-cost contract extension just after the regular season concluded on Sept. 30.
The White Sox probably loved Santos as a closer, but they also are concerned with the starting rotation. On Dec. 6, 2011, the Toronto Blue Jays offered up one of their top starting pitching prospects, Nestor Molina, for Sergio Santos, and White Sox general manager Kenny Williams pulled the trigger on the deal.
The White Sox gave up on an inexpensive closer, but they may have gained a solid starting pitcher in the process.
Ryan Madson entered the offseason looking for a lucrative long term deal. That's not what he got.
A full month before Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson both headed west, Ryan Madson appeared to be staying east.
"East" meant Philadelphia, where, as the closer, he had saved 32 games in 2011 as the anchor of a 102-win team's bullpen.
It was rumored on Nov. 8, 2011 that Madson would stay in Philadelphia for big bucks. Those rumors proved unfounded, and talks between Madson and Philadelphia collapsed. That cleared the path for the Phillies to sign Boston Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon to a long-term contract, which left Madson without a team but with what appeared to be plenty of options.
A lot of those options never materialized. The Marlins needed a closer, but opted for Heath Bell. The Red Sox had an opening but traded for Andrew Bailey. The Jays got Sergio Santos. The Rangers signed Joe Nathan. The Royals opted to take a flier on Jonathan Broxton.
Contracts were being signed, closer positions were being filled and Madson was a bystander through it all.
Then, on Jan. 13, 2012, Madson finally signed a deal. It wasn't for $40 million or more as he had initially hoped for back in early November. It also wasn't in the $30 million range that Heath Bell had gotten from the Marlins.
No, Madson ended up inking a one-year deal for only $8.5 million with the Cincinnati Reds.
Madson not returning to Philadelphia wasn't a total shock. Madson signing with the Reds wasn't that much of a surprise either. Yet the fact that he ended up getting only a one-year deal was fairly surprising considering the deals that Heath Bell and Papelbon both received just over a month earlier.
The Reds were happy to take Mat Latos off the hands of the Padres.
The San Diego Padres are a team that always seems to be looking to trim payroll. Still, Mat Latos seemed like the type of pitcher that the team would hang on to.
He was only 24 years old and wasn't due to be able to cash in on free agency until 2016. Yes, he'd get some raises due to arbitration before his free agency came up, but coming off a dominant second-half performance in 2011, Latos showed tons of promise.
Latos still does show tons of promise. He's going to be showcasing it in Cincinnati, though.
Latos was dealt to the Reds on Dec. 17, 2011 for a very tempting package of minor leaguers, as well as former 17-game winner Edinson Volquez.
In retrospect, when one looks at what the Padres received for Latos, the deal makes total sense. Volquez could possibly find the same groove he was in when he won 17 games in 2008, but more importantly, the three minor league players they received. Brad Boxberger, Yasmani Grandal and Yonder Alonso are all safe bets to make the majors, with Alonso having the highest ceiling of them all.
This deal was shocking, but not because it was a bad deal for either team. The Reds hope to sign the 2010 National League MVP Joey Votto to a contract extension, which would render Alonso without a position. Latos could become one of the league's best starters.
With both Pujols and Prince Fielder departing the National League Central, the Reds are in a position to compete for the division title in 2012 and beyond.
The Padres, meanwhile, turned one nice chip into possibly three or four nice chips down the road.
What did make the deal a shock was that Latos wasn't pricey and his second-half numbers in 2011: Fourteen starts with a 2.87 earned run average and a WHIP of 1.000 were outstanding. He's a pitcher with a seemingly bright immediate future at a low cost. They don't get traded too often.
Yoenis Cespedes brings legendary athletic ability to Oakland.
Perhaps as you were reading this slideshow, you were waiting to see slides detailing the "shock" value of the trades that sent Trevor Cahill to Arizona or Gio Gonzalez to Washington.
It's not often that young pitchers of that caliber are dealt. Add in the deal that sent Andrew Bailey to Boston, and it could be construed as a bit odd that Oakland would jettison such young and inexpensive talent.
That's Billy Beane, though. It doesn't matter if you've read Moneyball or just seen the movie. By now, most people should expect Beane to be wheeling and dealing more often than not. It wasn't that long ago that guys like Tim Hudson, Mike Mulder, Matt Holliday and Dan Haren were in Oakland uniforms.
Beane is constantly making trades; he trades old guys, young guys and everyone in between.
What he doesn't do that often is make free-agent signings, especially somewhat pricey ones. In the Beane era, free agents tend to "depart," not "arrive"—Miguel Tejada, Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, Barry Zito and Keith Foulke to name a few.
So, the announcement that Cuban defector Yoenis Cepsedes was signing a four-year, $36 million contract with the A's today was a bit of a shock. It's even more of a shock in the aftermath of the early offseason purge of talent already detailed in this slide.
There are a few possible reasons for this deal. One is that Beane in all likelihood really thinks this guy has special talent. There's no way around that assumption. $36 million isn't a ton of money for teams like the Yankees, Red Sox or Rangers. It's a hefty sum for a team whose highest-paid players last season were a pair of outfielders in Josh Willingham and David DeJesus, both of whom were paid $6 million and both of whom are now on other teams.
Maybe Beane is trying to make up for one his most stunningly bad deals? Following the 2008 season, Beane felt like Oakland could compete the next season, so he shipped a package of players off to the the Colorado Rockies for future free agent Matt Holliday. Holliday came to Oakland, and the Rockies got Huston Street, Greg Smith and Carlos Gonzalez—yes, that Carlos Gonzalez.
Cespedes will make $9 million next year. That could prove to be a bargain, though. What if Cespedes is nearly everything some people think he is? What if he does have not just five-tool potential but is actually a five-tool major league player?
Those types of players routinely get deals that pay them upwards of $20 million a year or more (Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford). Cespedes' deal would make him a tremendous bargain, and we all know what Billy Beane will do with Cespedes if he turns into a superstar. He'll probably deal him to another team.